The Green New Deal introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) has an inspiring goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within a decade. The resolution proposes to reach that goal with an audacious plan to rapidly transition to renewables. In addition to decarbonizing the American economy, it simultaneously proposes making that transition with a focus on social justice. Behind the scenes, economists, scientists and political staffers are attempting to find the best ways to do it.
In 2009, President Obama and Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that leveraged $90 billion dollars in loans, grants and research funds into clean energy. The Obama clean energy stimulus plan directed money into many of the same projects called for in the Green New Deal. At the time, the Obama investments were called the largest clean energy bill in history.
Just as Republicans savaged Obama’s green energy investments, they are viciously attacking the Green New Deal before there is any specific legislation. Obama’s commitment to green energy set the stage for many of the Green New Deal proposals.
“It’s a gargantuan legacy,” says Douglas Brinkley, a historian at Rice University. “I put him as one of the top environmental presidents in history.”
Ten years later, the Obama stimulus is cited as a “green-print” for many of the policy planners of the Green New Deal. Today’s green planning architects are building on the renewable capacity developed as a result of Obama’s 2009 clean energy stimulus.
“People don’t understand how forward-leaning the (Obama) stimulus was on climate issues,” said Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Fl). Castor chairs the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. She cites the Obama stimulus as laying the groundwork for climate action. “It’s a road map for a Green New Deal.”
“In many ways, we think of our plan as the stimulus that Obama never really gave us,” said Robert Hockett. Hockett is a Cornell University law professor and senior adviser to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“Our view is, this is going to be much bigger than that first stimulus, and it’s going to be more than just a stimulus. We’re thinking of it as a massive national reconstruction,” Hockett said.
Looking back on the goals and accomplishments of the Obama era investments in clean energy suggest the goals of the Green New Deal don’t seem as unobtainable as critics portray them.
The Green New Deal investments mirror many of the same projects funded by the Obama 2009 stimulus. More than $20 billion funded energy efficiency and conservation programs under Obama. Another $25 billion promoted renewable electricity generation. About $10 billion was dedicated to smart electric meter and smart grid technology as well as long-distance transmission lines. Advanced vehicle technologies such as electric battery manufacturing subsidies and heavy-duty diesel retrofits received over $5 billion. The Obama clean energy stimulus invested in $2 billion in state of the art carbon capture and storage technologies for coal-fired power plants.
The results of Obama’s spending produced some remarkable results. America’s wind capacity has more than tripled since 2009. Solar capacity is up more than six-fold. LEDs have grown from 1 percent of the market in 2009 to more than 50% today. Plug-in electric vehicles were nearly non-existent in 2009 and now they number more than 1 million. Iowa is the poster child for the growth of wind energy with 37% of electrical generation coming from the wind.
Republicans are crying wolf when they claim Americans can’t achieve the goals of the Green New Deal. Obama proved we can, even as Republicans did everything in their power to block his clean energy initiatives. If Obama could have served another term, America would still be leading the clean energy revolution, championing the Paris climate accords, and his clean energy plan would be continuing to shut down coal plants and replace them with renewables.
2020 will give Democrats another chance to renew and build on the Obama success by swinging for the fences with a bold Green New Deal. The window for addressing climate change is quickly closing. We can’t allow Republicans to prevent Americans from thinking big and acting boldly on climate.
by Rick Smith
Photo via White House archives